The events around Jesus’ birth inspired songs by Mary (her “Magnificat” is in Luke 1:46-55); by the angels (Luke 2:14), and by Simeon singing at the Temple when he saw the baby Jesus (Luke 2:29-32). The news around Christmas 2016 can sometimes discourage singing; the world is facing the worst global refugee crisis in history and an American president-elect and his nominated cabinet wanting to build walls on the border, stop refugees from coming here from overseas, and register Muslims in our country.
“A New Father, Awe-Struck” is a new hymn-prayer written days before Christmas 2016. It begins with a traditional image of a manger scene, and becomes a prayer that we may look deeper— at our loving God who chose to come into this world as someone who was poor, powerless, in danger, and a refugee.
The reason that Joseph went to Bethlehem was because the ruler of the occupying army, the Roman Emperor, wanted an accurate census of the current residents to increase their taxes to pay for the empire. Pregnant Mary went with him not because she counted as a woman (women did not even count in the Gospel writer’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 men; see Matthew 14:21), but because some might have wanted to kill her because they may have thought she had committed adultery (Deuteronomy 22:23-27).
The poverty of the couple can be seen in their placing their newborn child in a feeding trough. Further, a few days later, their Temple offering after Jesus’ birth was one given by the poor (Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:6). Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey (InterVarsity Press) explains the Christmas and other biblical stories in their original historical and cultural context. Joel Kay’s “ Resistance in a Manger” at Sojourners relates its contemporary relevance now.
The new hymn is a prayer that the church will work for justice as our gift to Jesus.
A New Father, Awe-Struck
MUELLER 126.96.36.199 ("Away in a Manger")
A new father, awe-struck; a mother so mild;
A stable; a manger; a dear, newborn child—
God, as we imagine that family so blessed,
We sometimes forget they were poor and oppressed.
A woman—considered to have no real worth—
Said, yes! She would bear your own Son here on earth.
We hear her bold singing! Her faithful words soar:
“God humbles the rich and God lifts up the poor.”
As Joseph and Mary began a new home,
They suffered oppression from rulers in Rome.
Then, fleeing from Herod to save their son’s life,
They looked for a land free from violence and strife.
We hear in our own day the cries of the poor;
We see in Aleppo the terror of war.
In women and children and men who must flee,
We glimpse, Lord, your life as a young refugee.
When some say that only the wealthy have worth,
O God, we recall where you lived here on earth.
May we in your church serve the poor and distressed;
For, working for justice, we give you our best.
Biblical references: Luke 2:1-20; 22-24; Leviticus 12:6; Matthew 2:13-18; Luke 1:46-55; Matthew 25:31-46 and Micah 6:8.
Permission is given for free use of this hymn by churches that support Sojourners.
*We pray and advocate for the end of the suffering in Aleppo, throughout Syria and for millions of refugees. This hymn can also be used with a more general, substitute, line in the fourth verse: “We see in your world, God, the terror of war.”